Tuesday, June 30, 2009

manufactured emotion

My generation, and the ones that follow even more so, have been numbed by media bombardment. We are constantly fed images of “happenings” around the world, and we desperately want to be part of one. The problem, though, is that half of the events we have the opportunity to participate in have been designed as events, so that someone somewhere else can see the images and wish they were there, being part of the action. The whole point of Woodstock was that it was spontaneous. Woodstock II was a manufactured simulacrum of the original, designed to sell t-shirts and CDs. None of this analysis is new, but I’ve been thinking about it in light of Michael Jackson’s death and the separation of Jon and Kate Gosselin.

The immediate reaction of so many people to MJ’s death seemed to be a sense of personal grief and loss, and I don’t get it. Yes, he was a very talented singer and dancer. And his life and death were tragic. But he was, from the age of 5, a product of our celebrity-obsessed culture. In some ways, his entire life was manufactured as a “happening”, and it seems like his death will just be one more.

Likewise, the Gosselins, who I had never heard of before their marital troubles landed their faces in the super-market aisle, have turned their entire lives into a media event. Lo and behold – raising 8 children under a constant spotlight is stressful, and they recently announced their divorce on the show. What astounded me was their position (since shut down by the network) that the show would go on – the public wants to see their children grow up, and the public must get what it wants.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that we dull our real senses when we let the media dictate what we should care about – what we should celebrate, who we should mourn. People are crying for the loss of a musician who hasn’t put out a new album in a decade or longer. Meanwhile, a couple whose celebrity has destroyed their marriage are continuing to seek the limelight – it’s like their entire lives are Woodstock II – a shiny media event staged for the fans at home. And we’re soaking it all up, while real people are unsung musical geniuses, real children are growing up, real friends are experiencing the joys and tragedies of marriages good and bad, and the backyard barbecue of the century may be just a few phone calls away. But we miss it, because it doesn’t have the shiny gloss of celebrity. But this is the stuff of life, and it’s happening right under our noses.


Colin Toffelmire said...

First of all, preach it!

Second, I'd say not only is it odd to follow the lives of famous folks, but that what we follow in People and on Entertainment Tonight are not the lives of famous folks. We follow the fictional constructs of the entertainment media. It's not that I don't believe in a real person named Michael Jackson who really made records and really just died. I just don't think that watching entertainment news can tell us anything meaningful about him.

The same goes (perhaps more so) for John & Kate. The myth that we see everything that happens to them because the cameras are always on only feeds our dilusion that the people we watch on their TV show are real. Those people are at best fictionally constructed characters based on limited excerpts of the lives of real people.

There is no reality TV and celebrity culture is a myth. The characters that we watch on good ol' TV dramas are more real than the people we watch on Survivor or ET.

el Maggie said...

Colin - you hit the nail on the head . . . "there is no reality TV". And I guess that echoes what I was trying to say - the tragedy of buying into the cult of celebrity is that we end up putting our energy and emotion into chasing a "reality" that never even existed in the first place . . .

Simone said...

Go read this...
http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2009/07/03/CelebrityStudy/ it's about just this issue and is really quite interesting.

Bottom line (according to the article)
"The wailing and gnashing of teeth caused by Michael Jackson's death last week left me mystified, until I came across a study on the nature of fame that explains why people remain famous long past the time they're doing anything noteworthy.

Apparently, it's because they give us some common ground for discussion that we desperately need to bond with our fellow bipeds."

Simone said...


It cut off the URL in the previous post. I'll try again

Simone said...

cut it off again... i'll just e-mail it to you.